March 18, 2024

Following Master Jesus

If we ask at the most basic level what Christianity is, if we are to be scriptural, we must answer that it consists in knowing and following Christ Jesus.  It is not simply affirming certain doctrines, reciting confessions or knowing historical theology to engage in learned dogmatic dispute, but in the here and now to worship and follow Jesus Christ the Lord. He is the Master, and the disciple is not greater than his Master.

Growing up in the Western tradition, we are less familiar with the ancient Eastern style of learning by literally attaching oneself to the teacher and learning their way of life and thought by imitation.  We do speak of tutors, professors and even mentors, but these fall short of the ancient Jewish tradition of following a rabbi and committing to heart their teaching.  When Jesus called the first disciples it was not to an academy for a lofty exchange of ideas in Socratic dialogue, still less was it to have essays or exam papers marked and reviewed by a mere tutor. When Christ called the disciple’s it was to follow him and devote their lives to him; to live with and learn from him, to memorize his sayings, witness his actions, hear his prayers, question him about his parables and tread the dust he trod. In short, to be a disciple of Christ meant and means to imitate him in everything; to take up the cross and follow him. As the apostle Paul wrote, ‘Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1).

Imitation is the basic meaning of Christian discipleship. This is easily overlooked when we come to the question of God’s law and faithful Christian witness as a whole in a secularized and repaganizing culture.  More often than not, the matter of God’s law, of theonomy, is approached by Christians in a detached theoretical way as though they personally are uninvolved with the question – theonomy as simply a matter of theological dispute or theoretical dogmatic interest. The not uncommonly derisive language of its more vehement opponents reflects a posture of treating God’s revealed law lightly or at times even with a haughty disdain. 

It is impossible to see our Master in such an attitude and yet to some professing Christians, God’s law is regarded as a threat, an aberration, something parenthetical that has been and gone – an unchristian blemish on the pages of scripture that has, to all intents and purposes, been ripped out for the believer in favour of living as one personally sees fit or feels led, as though law and gospel are as incompatible as oil and water.  But Jesus’ relationship to the law as author, exegete, master-teacher and Lord is of profound significance for all true disciples. Jesus modelled taking the totality of the law seriously and what matters to Jesus should matter to us (c.f. Matt. 5:17-19; John 14:15-24). What he taught we must believe, remember and teach.  What he did, we must emulate and copy. If we want to call ourselves Christian, we must be truly yoked to the one true rabbi.

This is no easy task coming without a cost. For this attachment must take place in a rebellious age that wants to vanquish God, trumpet its nihilism, champion a grand levelling, and through fear and intimidation cow the faithful individual into a mouses hole.  Our time embraces and effectively deifies an unofficially established order in both state and liberalising church, whilst fear and trembling before a holy God and his righteousness are abolished. Truth and justice are now made the province of man alone.  As Soren Kierkegaard prophetically put it:

If you are a student, then you can be sure that the Professor is the measure and the truth; if you are a parson, then the bishop is the way and the life; if you are a scrivener, the judge is the standard…the deification of the established order is the is the secularization of everything…the established order desires to be totalitarian, recognizing nothing over it, but having under it every individual, and judging every individual who is integrated in it. And “that individual” who expounds the most humble, but at the same time the most humane doctrine about what it means to be a man, the established order desires to terrify by imputing to him the guilt of blasphemy.[1]

Such it is that the true Christian faces today, accused of blasphemy against state orthodoxy, just as Jesus was accused of blasphemy by the Pharisees who neither knew the scriptures nor the power of God (Matt. 22:29). Ours is a time where human beings have made themselves the gauge, the measuring reed, the canon, in place of God’s law-Word.

The impact of this on the church has been very great because in place of God’s law the new Pharisees, parroting the culture, elevate human preferences, customs, positivistic laws, desires and wants into articles of faith. Following Jesus is no longer the measure; the established order of the world, infecting a progressive church institute like a virus, takes the place of Christ:

So holy in fact had the Pharisees and scribes become, and so holy do men always become when they deify the established order, that their divine worship is a way of making a fool of God. Under the pretense of serving and worshipping, they serve and worship their own device, either in self-complacent joy at being themselves the inventors or through fear of men.[2]

We cannot be ruled by the fear of man but only by the Word of God. A servant is not greater than his master, and so we must be attentive to our saviour who shows us how to regard the law of God in a lawless world.  Jesus said, You call Me Teacher and Lord. This is well said, for I am…a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him (John 13: 13,16).

[1] Soren Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity, trans, Walter Lowrie (New York: Vintage Books, 2004), 77-78

[2] Kierkegaard, Training, 79

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